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Acupuncture and IMS differences, explained

Physiotherapists and Acupuncturist sometimes use different needles. How are they different? Here are a few of the differences explained.


Acupuncture comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is part of a 4000 year old system of assessment, diagnosis and treatment for the whole body. A typical acupuncture assessment and treatment will include a holistic history, assessment including taking pulses at the wrist and looking at the tongue, and treatment by insertion of needles in specific acupuncture points.

The acupuncture needles are left in place for a period of time, to help assist the body to return to normal functioning. Recommendations around lifestyle, sleep, stress management, diet and exercises may be given to assist the body to return to functioning well. 

Intramuscular Stimulation

Intramuscular Stimulation, IMS, is also known as CGIMS, Chan Gunn Intra-Muscular Stimulation, or dry needling.1

IMS include the insertion of needles into motor points, to stimulate a motor reflex. The muscle twitches, and then ‘kicks down’ to a lower resting tension. The needles are not left in – they are inserted, twitch the muscle, and then are removed. Motor points are not necessarily acupuncture points. This treatment approach is specifically targeted to the muscle the needle is inserted into, and it is not intended to have a systemic effect. After receiving IMS, you may be sore in that spot for a couple of days – just like if you had over-done-it at the gym.

There are many benefits of both acupuncture and Intramuscular Stimulation. Some benefits of acupuncture include:

  • pain relief,
  • relaxation,
  • stress management,
  • improved digestion,
  • treatment for headaches,
  • relief from morning sickness.

And some benefits of IMS include:

  • relief from stiff shoulders or forearms,
  • reduced tension headaches,
  • can help with chronic tight hips,
  • addressing low back pain,
  • relief from muscle tightness.

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A person leans forward with several needles placed into their trap and their shoulder, relaxing.

  1. Chan Gunn is an Order of Canada recipient for his research into pain treatment.